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Security Incident at Philly Airport; A True American Hero; Our PTSD Problem; Toxic Sludge Threatens Danube; A Husband and Four Sons at War

Aired October 7, 2010 - 14:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're going to start at the top of the hour right now with some developing news, everyone. I'm Don Lemon, in today for Ali Velshi.

This breaking news is out of Philadelphia, in Philadelphia's airport. That is where bomb sniffing dogs have been searching a Bermuda-bound passenger plane. The 102 passengers and five crew members were evacuated after one of three people loading the plane failed to produce I.D. and then disappeared. Apparently, two of the baggage handlers didn't recognize the third guy who didn't have a badge.

Now, when they confronted him, he left the scene. The U.S. Airways plane has been towed to a secure spot while authorities search the luggage and they search for the man in question. The passengers were rescreened. Nothing suspicious has been found so far and we're going to keep a close eye on this story.

As a matter of fact, now, we want to go to CNN's Deb Feyerick who is following this story for you. Deb, what did you find out?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): We're being told by the FBI in Philadelphia that this is not terrorism-related. They did test the plane for explosives. The plane came up negative for any kind of explosives. They're expecting to have a press conference shortly to brief everybody on exactly what happened and who this person is and whether or not he's still at large or whether they know who they're talking about right now.

I did speak to somebody, a source who's familiar with federal aviation, who says, really, now the culture of airports is that anybody working on any part of the airport, including what they call the aeronautical operations area, that's the tarmac area, that they are trained to challenge anyone who is not displaying proper identification. That, in fact, if they don't challenge them, that they risk federal fines. So, the two people who challenged the third baggage handler who did not appear to have identification were doing the right thing.

The question, how did this person get to that area? Well, I asked and they said, you know, there are multiple access points at all airports throughout the country. You're supposed to be swiping your badge, swiping your identification. But it does happen, for example, that somebody may piggyback and enter a door or enter a particular area just by walking in with a group. So, all of that right now is under investigation.

But just to reiterate, we are being told this is not terrorism- related. The plane tested negative for any kinds of explosives. And hopefully, we'll know more in just a little bit.

LEMON: But still, we don't know where the unidentified man is.

FEYERICK: We are still waiting on information. No confirmation on whether they know who this person is or where this person is. So, that's sort of an unknown. We'll get back to you as soon as we have more on that.

LEMON: Obviously, this is the utmost importance, American safety, not only to the passengers on the plane but the people who are on the ground.

Our Deborah Feyerick following this developing story happening at the Philadelphia airport -- Deb, thank you.

We're going to continue to follow that and get more information.

But we want to move on now and talk about the war in Afghanistan. Today, America begins its 10th year fighting a determined enemy that shows no concrete sign of throwing down their arms and surrendering anytime soon.

To the Taliban, this is a fight to the finish. Last man standing wins. They are fighting the best trained, best equipped fighting force in the world, American service men and women and their NATO allies.

Now, as this map shows you right here, it is really a two-front war in Pakistan. Some Taliban forces and elements of al Qaeda use the mountainous borders areas as safe havens and staging points to launch attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. U.S. officials complain that the Pakistani government is not doing enough to stop these cross border raids.

The past nine years have been witness to a fierce fighting and mountain casualties there. As this graphic shows you, 1,215 American troops have been killed, 2,119 NATO soldiers have died in that war.

And fighting the Taliban right now are some 95,000 troops and about 48,000 NATO troops from 46 countries.

These pictures serve as a good example of the immense problems facing U.S. and NATO forces. The Taliban in Pakistan blowing up vital supply trucks bound for Afghanistan. Pakistan last week closed a major border crossing point and has given no indication when it will reopen.

One major campaign underway right now is the Taliban birthplace of southern Kandahar province. Now, the Taliban vowed to defend this area, regardless of the cost. They'll defend at any cost really. A key strategic issue for the coalition is the fact that the Taliban's presence is felt over vast parts of the country. In some areas, they're much stronger than in others. Critics argue that a key turning point in the war occurred very early on when the U.S. invaded there were no American troops in Iraq, and simply because that invasion did not happen until two years later.

This graphic gives you an idea of what happen next. When the U.S. did invade Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration turned virtually its full attention to that war, shifting many more troops to Iraq.

Here's what analysts say. They say that provided an opening for the Taliban. The key question right now is: what happens next?

This is a war that recent polls show the majority of Americans opposed, and President Obama has said he doesn't want to fight this war any longer than necessary. Now, in that vein, he has already announced that a troop withdrawal will begin next summer.

You know, this long Afghan war has produced its share of American heroes, brave men and women who for the past nine years have put themselves in harm's way, more than 1,200 have paid the ultimate sacrifice. One of these remarkable soldiers was a young man who served a total of 12 tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, he returned home.

CNN's Martin Savidge joins us now from Savannah, Georgia, with their story -- Marty.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the young man is 29-year-old Lance Vogeler. He is an Army Ranger. And he died in Afghanistan last Friday.

Today, his body returned here to Savannah. And it was quite a remarkable scene at Hunter Army Airfield. As you have the honor guard that was there to meet the aircraft, and then on top of that, you had several what appear to be maybe 100 or more rangers that were on hand to also be there, and, of course, the young fallen soldier's family, as well.

And it's a very difficult time for that family. I had the opportunity to speak with them. Their heart is full of pride, but it's also breaking at the same time.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's heartbreak.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Ask Tim Vogeler what kind of person his son was and his hands begin to move while his younger son, Chris, translates.

TIM VOGELER, FATHER (through Chris Vogeler): I wish the world could meet him. He's amazing. He thinks his son is really awesome.

SAVIDGE: He and his wife, Donna, are deaf. They may not be able to speak about how proud they are, but they certainly can still tell you. DONNA VOGELER, MOTHER (through Chris Vogeler): Love to help people. Very joyful man. He's a great son.

SAVIDGE: Twenty-nine-year-old Sergeant First Class Lance Vogeler was an Army Ranger, a special breed of soldier. Nothing proved that more than the number of times he put himself in harm's way. Vogeler did four rotations in Iraq and eight in Afghanistan. A dozen combat tours overall.

Hugh Williams served alongside him for four years.

HUGH WILLIAMS, FORMER RANGER: He led by example. The man led by example. He was not going to ask you to do something he himself was not willing to do.

SAVIDGE: Growing up, Vogeler was a boy scout. He loved rollerblading, soccer, golf and God. And it's the latter that's helped his family through since his death in combat last Friday.

T. VOGELER: It's very hard, very hard. We cope because of our faith. God has blessed us a lot.

SAVIDGE: But along with the grief comes moments of laughter as Chris Vogeler remembers.

CHRIS VOGELER, YOUNGER BROTHER: Both being children of deaf parents, we got away with a lot.

SAVIDGE: But there was no escaping the danger of so many rotations, even after being wounded in the leg, Vogeler came home, healed and went back.

I asked him mom if she ever thought he went back too many times.

C. VOGELER: Yes. She felt it was a lot. And yet she expected more, too. That was his wish.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Did you ever think this day would come?


SAVIDGE (voice-over): And that's when our conversation ended. And you didn't need words or hands to understand why.


SAVIDGE: In addition to his mother and father and younger brother, Chris, Lance Vogeler is also survived by his wife and two children and there's another baby on the way -- Don.

LEMON: Martin Savidge, even as a veteran in this business, you can't -- I'm sure you can't even help by not being moved on this story. It just gives you a lump in your throat to hear their words.

SAVIDGE: It's a very powerful story, without a doubt. There are many of them. Often they don't all get reported. And we're fortunate in this case we had an opportunity to focus on this young man and his family and there are many more stories we wish we could tell.

LEMON: Martin Savidge at Savannah -- thank you very much for that, Martin.

The physical toll on our troops, it can be obvious, but what about these warriors' emotional wounds? Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here with us next, he's going to talk about our PTSD problem we're having in this country with the military.


LEMON: You're at work, in your home office or if you're at home, I really want you to pay attention to this story because it really shows you what our men and women in uniform are dealing with.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, has spent a lot of time on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan with U.S. military personnel. And for years, he has reported on the physical and mental toll our troops endure. He joins me live right now.

So, Sanjay, we're now nine years into this war in Afghanistan. The suicide raid rates, PTSD rates continue to rise. So, have the mental wounds of this war kind of turned into, really, the elephant in the room here?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it was for a long time. It was exactly that. No one talked very much about it because, in part, it was a vague diagnosis. You don't have a blood test or a specific imaging test that can diagnose PTSD.

LEMON: And I'm sure people just didn't want to let on that it was happening.

GUPTA: They didn't want to let on. There's a stigma attached to mental illness that we talk about all the time. But I think, now, it's inescapable when you look at the numbers and the impact this has happened. I think it's staggering to sort of think about numbers like how many people have been hospitalized as a result of mental illness as compared to physical wounds?

Take a look there, Don.


GUPTA: I mean, I think these numbers here, they say it all. More people now, this past year, were hospitalized for mental health issue as compared to physical injuries. These are U.S. troops. Keep in mind, Don, as you well know, a lot of people, they never come forward. So that 17,000 number, it's a gross underestimation of how just profound this is.

Suicide rate, four times higher -- four times higher -- among U.S. troops than the civilian population.


GUPTA: It's no longer the elephant in the room.

LEMON: And there are a lot of things here, mutually, even in civilian life people don't like to talk about it. There's a stigma attached to it here. And then when you're in a group, you know, you're a guy that's mostly men, obviously, in the military guys, and they would have the bravado. They don't want to talk about that as well.

But I wonder about this. We did the story on the young men, some people redeployed 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 times. These deployments, the multiple employments, what's that do into this?

GUPTA: Well, there's no question that we have date, real objective data. It's not guesswork anymore in terms of PTSD among people who are deployed more than once. The likelihood of developing mental illness is 2 1/2 times higher in someone who is deployed twice versus just once. As you mentioned, people are deployed many, many times.

I think the most striking thing, Don, besides being on the ground in these places, I have been to the V.A. hospitals. I've been to a lot of places where these troops are treated when they come home, and a lot of times, they don't know exactly when to be able to send someone back into Afghanistan or Iraq. There's not strict criteria to say, "You know what? You shouldn't go back in." It's somewhat vague.

Sometimes they'll have them fill out a question heir saying, did you see -- you know, were you part of the battlefield injury, did you see some horrific thing? And that becomes a questionnaire determining whether or not they can go back in. So, it's been vague and that's been part of the problem.

LEMON: Yes, it used to be almost, you know, like pilots, or what- have-you, or even doctors where you would have three days on or four days off, or what-have-you, longer stretches between deployments.

GUPTA: That's right.

LEMON: Now, it's short because he's specialist. You really, really them.

Here's what -- I want to go to this because there are some commanders, top commanders, who are calling it an emergency situation.

GUPTA: That's right.

LEMON: Has it gotten to the crisis level, though? And if, you know, if it's an emergency situation or crisis or whatever, what's being done?

GUPTA: I think it has. And that's the good news in all this. I think top military commanders have recognized what was otherwise, as you mentioned, the elephant in the room for so long and said we got to squarely deal with this.

The repercussions of this 10 to 15 years down the line are going to be enormous, the mental health injuries that people are suffering and it is an injury. I'm not saying this is a disorder anymore. They're saying this is an injury. Let's treat it as such.

So, whether it comes to simple things like resources, Fort Hood, a place that we talk about a lot, 4,000 mental health visits a month. Most big hospitals in this country could not handle that volume. How can Fort Hood possibly handle it?

They need more resources. They need to allow people to go off the base to get resources. They need to have confidential phone counseling to be able to deal with this. And you need to get rid of the stigma so people come forward.

And I think, if the top military commanders talk about it, it goes a long way towards addressing all those things.

LEMON: I almost wonder if we -- if our men and women in uniform, when they do come back, if there's almost like some sort of re-emersion there that they should be given every time, because it really is quite different. We have an Iraq war vet who works here. He's standing right there, Joey.


LEMON: And he said, just driving his car, he's like, what's wrong with his car? He's used to driving a big Humvee, little things, little things.

GUPTA: You have no idea, Joes does, but a lot of people have no idea how profound that can be. Simple things, like what you just mentioned, but even the way that the memories of what you saw are seared into your brain and the way they come out and express themselves as a result of PTSD, it's phenomenal and scary, I think, and how exactly to treat it I think is being developed still, the best way to treat it so someone can go on to live a functional life. I think that will come about as a result of this increased attention.

LEMON: I think that's the best way to respect the people who made sacrifices like Joey --


LEMON: -- to make sure that they're OK and have the therapy and the services they need.

GUPTA: And not stigmatize us anymore.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you, Doctor. Appreciate it. Good reporting. And thank you, sir.

GUPTA: Sure.

LEMON: Next up here on CNN, how to keep food fresh in your homes where owning a refrigerator used to be nothing more than a dream. It is one simple thing and it's next.


LEMON: Time for your top stories here on CNN.

On this 9th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai is trying to find a way to end the conflict. Karzai has convened a peace council of 68 clerics and elder. It's aimed to try to broker peace with the Taliban. Critics say the so-called peace council is filled with warlords and lacking civil and business leaders.

Rescuers can reach the area where those 33 Chilean miners are trapped and they can do it by Saturday. The country's mines minister now says crews have fewer than 300 feet to drill. It could be anywhere from two to 10 days after the breakthrough before they are actually pulled out, but they have been trapped since early August.

It's only happened once before in Major League Baseball's post-season history. The Phillies' Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter last night, amazing, in their 4-0 victory against the Cincinnati Reds. The last time that happened was back in 1956. Halladay also had a perfect game during the regular season.

Well, how can clay and mud help keep poor people from starving? An ingenious inventor in India can answer that question for you.

Here's Mallika Kapur with "One Simple Thing."


MALLIKA KAPUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Summer heat in India brings people outdoors, fetching water and going to the local market to buy food. It's a daily routine for people who can't afford refrigerators to store water and to keep food from spoiling.

MRS. KAILASH, OWN A MITT COOL (through translator): The milk is to go bad. The vegetables did not stay fresh and we did not get cold water. And this was very troublesome for us.

KAPUR: For Mrs. Kailash and a third of India's population who live below the poverty line, buying a refrigerator is a luxury, paying the electric bill is impossible.

Entrepreneur Mansukh Prajapati is trying to change that. For years, he made clay pots that kept water cool. But during the 2001 earthquake in his home state, 90 percent of his clay pots that were ready for sale ended up as rubble.

MANSUKH PRAJAPATI, CEO, MITTI COOL (through translator): A local press reporter wrote that the poor man fridge has gotten destroyed. It was then that it struck me that a clay pot is a poor man's fridge. Why not actually make a fridge out of clay and fulfilled their dream?

KAPUR: It took Prajapati four years to figure out the science and design to his poor man's fridge. Most importantly, it had to be cheap -- so no shiny plastic or complicated wiring.

PRAJAPATI: I made a refrigerator out of clay which works without electricity. It does not require any gas or air that will pollute the environment.

KAPUR: It starts with a simple mixture of dirt and water that's churned until it's smooth. It is then poured into large outdoor pools and left to separate. After the raw clay dries, the pieces go through several mixing processes.

Prajapati and his employees use their own hands to mold the clay into the shape of a fridge, even using their nails for the finer details. After the mud fridge is baked, Prajapati screws the hinges and fits the door. He calls it the Mitti Cool. Mitti in Hindi means mud. The top compartment holds the cool water which in turn cools the entire refrigerator.

The Mitti Cool costs only $52. It was worth the investment for Mrs. Kailash, she's had one for the last two years.

KAILASH: Now, life is good. Vegetables stay fresh for six to eight days and milk stays fresh for two days.

KAPUR: Prajapati says the Mitti Cool has exceeded his expectations.

PRAJAPATI: I had a dream to make this fridge accessible to the poorest of the poor. When people saw my product on TV, they got to know that there was a fridge made out of clay which does not require maintenance, does not need electricity to function and is eco- friendly. Since then, we have been selling this fridge to everybody, whether rich or poor. They buy it and appreciate it.

KAPUR: So appreciate it that even the president of India recognized Prajapati. But his innovation hasn't stopped with the Mitti Cool. He says he's always thinking f new ways to improve lives like this one simple thing already has.

Mallika Kapur, CNN, Mumbai.


LEMON: So, the Nobel Prizes are being handed out this week. And it's for some stuff we have never heard of. I mean, do you know what carbon coupling is? Maybe you do. I don't.

We've got the answer. It's "Off the Radar," next.


LEMON: Oh, there he is. What do us, do you want to go "Off the Radar"?


LEMON: Let's go to Nobel. I -- I never know how they decide these things. It's a mystery to me. Did you know?

MYERS: We had literature and chemistry yesterday and we didn't get to it.

So, that was about the carbon.

LEMON: I said you should be a professor, didn't I? Let's go. You get my notes.

MYERS: When all of my air falls out. I could still be a professor. I can still wear (INAUDIBLE) and my blazer.

Anyway, this is Nobel Prize for literature for today. This is a Peruvian guy who actually ran for president of Peru years ago. Marceau Vargas Gosha won for, this is why we don't know who these people are, for his cartography structures of power and his transient images of the individuals resistance, revolt and defeat.

LEMON: The academy said.


LEMON: I understand that part. Somebody said that, go for it.

MYERS: And this one maybe we can do.

LEMON: Carbon?

MYERS: And thanks for our Jessica King for putting these together, carbon.

Carbon to carbon, you put them together leak two of the wrong sides of Velcros. They don't go together all by themselves.

And last, most of the way, made an awful lot of things like by- products that we didn't want in putting carbon to carbon. Carbon is life, right? I mean, we burn carbon in our cars. We burn carbon in coal, but if you take Palladium, it becomes the other side of Velcro.

LEMON: Palladium. I'm staying at the Palladium years ago. That's a good place. Oh, you mean this Palladium things.

MYERS: That's the chemistry.

LEMON: And now you know.

MYERS: And then we get peace and then we get economics the next couple of days. I think you'll know those two guys.

LEMON: What are you, you running for Miss America, world peace?

MYERS: Nobel. Nobel Peace.

I really hope for world peace.

LEMON: All right. It's always world peace, right?

MYERS: Good to see you, Don.

LEMON: Thank you. It's good to see you. Appreciate it, sir. You know, devastation he was talking about -- we've been talking about coupling. This was supposed to turn aluminum, turn a certain chemical something they could use. We're talking about the devastation that toxic sludge is happening in Hungary. We're going to take you inside this disaster where emergency crews are trying to head off an even greater chemical strategy.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's go globe trekking right now here on CNN because in Western Hungary, they're trying to head off a toxic nightmare.

Right now, chemical sludge is seeping into the massive Danube River. Here is what it looks like just a few days ago when the wave of highly toxic mud broke out of an aluminum plant reservoir.

Four people sadly have died, others suffered chemical burns. CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson shows us what it's like inside this toxic disaster zone.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is Devecser, this is one of the villages affected. You can see where the red tides of sludge got to.

Right here, a yard that's green and further downhill, you have the red sludge. If you look over here, right behind me, you can see these cleaning trucks going through the village, cleaning off the road, trying to keep the roads clean.

But that's only a small part of the cleaning process. If you come down the hill further into the area, the red sludge, this toxic sludge hit, you can begin to see how the level rises against the side of the building.

Over here, everywhere you look in the village, the cleanup is going on, people coming out, gathering whatever possessions they can get. This stuff here looks like flooring from inside the house right here.

And look at the line, the red tides of the house right here, way above me. This is how high the red, toxic sludge came through here. People literally ripping up their flooring, taking it out, trying to salvage whatever they can.

Everything is being decontaminated here. The army has set up a decontamination zone. That's the police car right there. We're seeing dozens of them getting cleaned. This is right on the edge of the contamination area.

This is what the military are doing. They're trying to keep their service personnel healthy and safe as they do their job, but also keeping the vehicles clean, keeping down the amount of contaminants in the area, stopping it from spreading outside. That's one of the key parts of the containment here. People doing anything they can to get back into their properties, wooden pallets laid down here. Somebody has a dump truck here, got this trying to clean out their yard. But you can see when you look at the yard, this red toxic sludge mixes in with the dirt underneath.

It's very hard to separate the two. If we move up here, has this big container. This has been brought in to get rid of some of all these contaminated material around the truck here.

When you come around here, take a look at it. You just get an idea of how devastated this village is. Look at the yards here. Look at that red sludge, sitting in there, just completely contaminating the whole area.

When you come up here a little more, these are the police lines. Right here, the police have set up lines so looters can't get in. They're patrolling them on policemen, patrolling the village, keeping out anyone that wants to come in and steal things.

It's hard to imagine, thou, how anyone would want to come into this village to take anything away. It's all so contaminated. Nic Robertson, CNN, Devecser, Hungary.


LEMON: Unbelievable. Thank you, Nic.

You know, one family member going to war can be a lot to handle. But imagine if your spouse and four children after the call of duty over and over and over again. Straight ahead, I'll talk to a woman for whom it is a stark reality.


LEMON: As we mark the ninth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, a South Carolina family has answered the call to duty over and over and over again.

I want to introduce you now to Bonnie Hoagland. She has seen her husband and four sons ranging in age from 21 to 25 rotate in and out of war zones.

She joins me now live via Skype from Chester, South Carolina. First of all, thank you for doing this. How is your family doing?

BONNIE HOAGLAND, WIFE AND MOTHER: Everybody's doing well as good as can be expected. Just ready to be home.

LEMON: Yes, so over and over and over again. I'm sure at some point you know it's going to happen, but did you ever get used to it? Does it ever get any easier to go to see your family members go off to war?

HOAGLAND: In my instance, as far as I'm concerned, it's never any easier from the start of it when we started this back in 2003 until now. It hasn't gotten any easier. It's just as tiresome and worrisome each and every time. LEMON: I just spoke a short time ago, Bonnie, to Dr. Sanjay Gupta and he talked about posttraumatic stress disorder. One factor in this may be the number of times that our soldiers are redeployed and the short of amounts of time that they have to spend at home. Do you have anything to say about that?

HOAGLAND: I believe the amount of time that they are there and returning over and over again, that it works on them. It works on their mentality, their mind-set and I believe each and every soldier that comes home from over there has some type or a little bit of them stay and that has to be the posttraumatic stress.

LEMON: Listen, we have begun, you know, letting the troops in Iraq, the people in Iraq, Iraqi forces deal with their own security. The president has said he's going to start bringing people home from Afghanistan. As someone who has, you know, five members of your family into those war zones, what's your feeling?

HOAGLAND: My feeling on that is we need to bring all our troops home. We've lost enough American soldiers and this war will continue long after we come home, so I mean, I believe, you know, we tried to help and it's just a war that we're not going to be able to fix. And -

LEMON: Go ahead. I'm sorry. Please finish your thoughts.

HOAGLAND: I just believe that we just need to come home and it's time to make a definite time limit on when we're coming home is a wrong decision. We don't need to let everybody know the dates that we're coming home. When we're ready to pull out, pull out.

LEMON: Bonnie, listen, I want to thank you because that's my last question, but if you can do me a favor. I see that you had the I.D. tags or what they call the dog tags. You wear them, right, for all five members of your family.


LEMON: You keep them close to your hearts.

HOAGLAND: Yes. I wear them every day until every one of them returns, I'll wear them every day.

LEMON: Bonnie Hoagland, thank you. Best of luck to your family and please thanks them for their sacrifice and your sacrifice, as well.

HOAGLAND: Thank you so much.

LEMON: Coming up next here on CNN, thank you to Bonnie. There you go. So Ed Henry, down at the White House, he sings the hits? It was supposed to be karaoke for charity, but imagine a competition between CNN krooners. Who won? Don't say anything, just wait.


LEMON: We know that CNN's Ed Henry has a bit of an aversion to work, but today, he didn't show up at the White House so we have to go and get him so he could come in to work today. As far as he made, it was the bureau in Washington. Why aren't you at the White House?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Don, I've got some meetings today over here and I wanted to talk a little bit about the president is on the way --

LEMON: I thought I was handing you a segue way to say the president is on the road so you didn't have to go there, but there you go.

HENRY: Well, he's in Maryland and he's going to be doing a rally for Martin O'Malley, a Democratic governor, but later today, he's going to Chicago and that's more interesting because he's going to be there campaigning for Alexi Giannoulias who is a Democratic candidate in a dead heat for the old Obama Senate seat.

I can tell you that I was picking up the information today from Democratic officials. He's going to be going back again, the president, the next couple of weeks to Chicago. Why?

This is such a big symbolic get for Republicans. If they can take Barack Obama's old Senate seat, as you know full well, from back in Illinois and your days in Chicago, this would be a big trophy and so the White House is working hard to make sure they get that Senate seat down.

LEMON: OK, so, yes and that is a really a hotly contested race and there has been a bunch of controversy going on. I won't get into it. I won't get into it. Let's move on.

There is a report that says that the government was slammed. We're going to move on and talk about the Gulf oil spill -- on their response to the Gulf oil spill. Ed, what's that all about?

HENRY: Well, what's interesting is that you've got this commission appointed by the president that has come out with some preliminary findings. You need to stress it. It's not just their final report.

It's just some staff findings that were basically charging leak outlet yesterday, charging that the Obama administration was not fully forthcoming with the American people about, for example, how much oil wag flowing into the Gulf during important parts of that crisis.

Interesting, White House spokespersons really pushed back today and was insisting that that's not the case, they were forth coming. Bottom line is what's interesting is that, this is the like the Republican committee attacking the White House.

It's the president's own appointed commission raising questions about the administration's behavior. And so this is going to be an interesting fight that plays out because they still have a final report to do.

The administration pushing back and saying they were forthcoming. Many people thought that crisis was over, but it turns out there maybe some lingering questions that White House has to answer, Don.

LEMON: OK, so usually this happens after, you know, maybe a major assignment and everybody is getting ready to go home. You have a couple of beers and you're like, sitting around and before we go to the airport --

HENRY: No drinking.

LEMON: Karaoke. You may go to a karaoke bar, but what is this I hear about you and other CNNers in a karaoke contest and it's for charity.

HENRY: It was for charity. I was telling Ali yesterday that I was going to be competing. I started getting really nervous yesterday because I thought it was going to be a small thing and all these media outlets there were covering. I have a terrible voice.

And one of the people who went was Luke Russert from MSNBC, and this guy, I think we've got some video image. He did "Born to Run" from Bruce Springstein. I mean, he was jumping around on the stage. He was talking like Bruce. He was punching his fist.

So I was starting to get nervous that I was going to win this thing and then my colleague, Dan Lothian gets up and he sang something from "Beauty and the Beast."

And, I mean, you may not know it, but Dan has got this amazing voice. It was really kind of a touching song. I think you hear it in the background there. And so what I did do?

I got desperate and I said, I've got to bring my kids on stage because I want some sympathy from the judges because my voice is terrible. And I was thinking about a Cruiser song, "Dynamite." I think we have a very short bit because it's pretty bad.

LEMON: Ed, Ed, cut his mike. Let's hear it.

HENRY: Wow, wow, White House correspondents can't sing. Except for -- but here is the thing, Don, is that I actually won the big trophy.

LEMON: You may as well hand that trophy to that little girl.

HENRY: Yes. I won. I think they probably picked my daughter. Wait.


HENRY: Well, technically they gave a trophy to everybody who participated. I guess, I forgot to mention that Brianna sang a country western song and then sang a duet with Luke Russert. Let's listen.

LEMON: Nice, Brianna. You never do that when we go hang out.

KEILAR: I will next time, Don, I promise. But this is for a really good organization called Mr. Holland's Opis Foundation. There's a lot of kids in D.C. schools who don't have musical instruments.

They can't afford them. The schools can't afford them. So literally, the money that was raised goes towards making sure that they have musical instruments.

HENRY: I think that's a good cause and I think they need new trophies because mine is already broken.

KEILAR: I guess maybe mine is better.

LEMON: Was that your daughter, really, Ed? That's your daughter?

HENRY: Yes, it was really my daughter. I didn't rent some kids.

LEMON: Your daughter is the ringer and I have to say the only karaoke song I ever do, because it's easy to sing, you can scream is "White Wedding" by Billy Idol. That's the only thing I'll ever sing.

Thank you, guys. Congratulations. You know, we've got complete coverage of the key races and key issues heading into the critical midterm elections. Your CNNPolitics.ocm update right after the break.


LEMON: Six days until the critical midterm elections. Paul Steinhauser in Washington, give us an update. Paul, what are you working on?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Don, a lot of brand new things in the CNN Political Ticker and I promise unlike Ed Henry and Brianna Keilar, I'm not going to be singing and dancing right now. This is pure journalism.

Let's talk about a couple of things. You know, Ed was just talking to you just a few minutes ago about President Obama on the campaign trail. Let's talk about the number two guy, Joe Biden. He has really become what you could almost say the party guy, and I mean, the Democratic Party guy.

Where was he this morning? He was in Madison, Wisconsin, campaigning, helping out the gubernatorial nominee there. Later today, he goes to Missouri to help Robin Carnahan, the secretary of state of Missouri, but also the Democrat's Senate nominee.

Tomorrow, Washington State will be teaming up with Senator Patty Murry who faces a pretty challenging re-election this year. Monday, back at the beginning of the week, he was in Ohio helping out Ted Strickland, the Democratic governor facing a tough re-election.

On Tuesday, he was in Minnesota with the Democrats gubernatorial nominee. It's kind of like an average week right now for Joe Biden as we are just 26 days away. He's really become the go-to guy in a way to help out Democratic candidates and Democrats running for re- election this year, Don.

The other thing I want to show you, right here on CNN Political Ticker, Jane McMichael. It's Election Day already, Don. It's not November 2nd. We're talking about today.

In fact, Arizona today became the 10th state where early voting is under way. It all kicked off back with Vermont on September 20th. They were the first and Don, in the next two weeks, another 17 states plus the District of Columbia will also have early voting.

It's really blossomed over the last couple of election cycles and changed a lot of things for voters, but also people running these campaigns. It's really kind of changed their strategy.

Finally, Don, one other thing I want to show you our brand new CNN Time Magazine Opinion Research Corporation polls in some crucial states.

Let's go to Nevada, this is the big Senate race out there. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader fighting for re-election. It's a tough one for him. Check out these numbers here and it shows that Sharron Angle, the Senate nominee of the Republican side there who's backed by Tea Party activists.

Look at that, two-point advantage over Reid with Jon Ashjian who is a third party candidate taking 7 percent and in Nevada, you also get to vote for none of them and that's 1 in 10 say they may do vote for none of them.

How about Connecticut? Here is another state, Don, where if the Democrats lose and the Republicans win back the majority in the Senate, it could be Connecticut.

In Connecticut right now, where Chris Dodd, the Democrat is not running for re-election. Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic nominee, the state attorney general, up by 13 points over Linda McMahon. That's what I've got, Don. Back to you.

LEMON: Thank you, Paul Steinhauser in Washington.

And the president as we've been telling you is heading to Chicago for a campaign stop. You know, one of his main topics on the trail is the economy, of course. But some question whether he can deliver a compelling argument. That was one of the topics they tackled last night on CNN's "PARKER SPITZER."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People respect a president who is willing to have enough -- that he tells you not the draw blood. It is so true. The defining moment I think is when President Obama had the COEs down at the White House and they were all happy together. For in that context was saying, you are the enemy and Barack Obama said, we are all in this together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama wants to be liked, ultimately. He is a pleaser and I think that's a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a pleaser, but it's not just toughness. It's also empathy. We have had two immediate presidents, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton who could show public empathy very effectively. It's not a skill Obama has.


LEMON: New edition, Parker/Spitzer tonight here at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Hello, Mr. President. I've got a message for you and I'm going to deliver it in my XYZ.


LEMON: OK. It is time right now for the XYZ of it. We have given much of our sometime here on CNN to the midterm elections. Mostly talking about the House and Senate races, who will take over, important stuff, important stuff?

Equally as important if not more is that it's President Obama's midterm, the halfway mark in his presidency. Mr. President, 2012 will be here before you know it. Obviously, I don't sit where you are, so I don't pretend to know the enormous challenges you face every single day probably every single minute.

But from where I sit, from where many Americans who look up and see you every day on the TV, we want to see a president who is confident about the direction in which he is leading our country regardless of our political affiliations. This isn't about Republican or Democrat. It's about being an American.

You said that you would boost the economy, reduce unemployment, abolish Don't Ask, Don't Tell, reform immigration and change the hyper partisan atmosphere in Washington. Sure, you have accomplished a lot and you have met with some resistance.

All presidents do. But honestly, if you don't start to do some of these things soon, you probably won't get the chance to do them in a second term. I'm not a pollster, but here is what I hear in the barber shops, the grocery store, the gym, the gas station, hey, CNN, guy, what's up with our president, man?

What is he waiting on? What is he afraid of? Just this morning at the coffee shop, a man walked up to me and he said, Don, I didn't support President Bush's policies, but I respected his confidence to carry them out no matter what the opposition.

The same guy went on to say, the Republicans are never going to like Obama. Why does he keep trying so hard to please them? Mr. President, I don't the answer. I hope you do.

And that's my "XYZ."

Time now for the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM.